Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

A letter from John D.:

Hi Joe,
I just finished Soulfully Gay. I liked it a lot. I picked it up in a bookstore and ended up buying it when I saw the introduction by Ken Wilber. I’m gay, raised catholic, and am currently on a Ken Wilber jag. (Right now I’ve got five Ken Wilber books piled on my bedstand, and I’ve got another one on order.)

Four years ago I decided to return to the catholic church after 35 years away (I’m 58). Over the years I had seriously checked out other religious traditions (I was and am particularly attracted to taoism). However, when push came to shove it seemed natural for me to approach Spirit through the tradition I was raised in rather than trying to work through another tradition in which I would always be in some sense a foreigner.

For me, a major factor in all this is that I live in the SF Bay Area and am able to attend Most Holy Redeemer in the Castro. I’m sure that you’ve heard of MHR so I won’t bother describing it. I didn’t so much make a rational decision to return to the church as much as I just started attending MHR and one day realized “Well, I’m home.”

I actually got into Ken Wilber by way of Centering Prayer. One of Father Keating’s books gave a favorable mention to Wilber. I was initially a little dubious but I’m increasingly impressed. I have some remaining reservations (mainly around elitism) but Wilber’s framework seems really useful for anyone with a serious spiritual practice.

After reading Soulfully Gay and checking out your website I’m curious about why you haven’t sought out a parish like MHR or a group like Dignity. Any thoughts?

In the Spirit,
John D.

Dear John,
For your question, as you know I wrote extensively in Soulfully Gay about my relationship to institutional Christianity over the period of 2003 to 2004. Like you, it seems I’ve concluded that it’s more practical for me to embrace and deepen my appreciation for the tradition of my upbringing rather than look exclusively to non-Western traditions.

However, I define the tradition I was raised in as Christian, not just specifically Roman Catholic. Therefore, I’ve not confined my search for a home parish just to Roman Catholic circles. Indeed, given the sorry leadership in the Roman Catholic branch these days, I’m afraid I would just be too embarrassed to return to the RC Church in good conscience.

Any church I join will be flawed and have its own issues. But I really want a church I can feel proud of and welcomed by. I don’t think the RC is an option for me.

In any event, I expect to be officially welcomed into the Episcopal Church later this year. it’s just taken me this long to go through the process of figuring out the right direction and institutional approach to religion that suits me.

I respect that others can make different decisions with regard to the Roman Churh than mine, but I would find it impossible to respect myself and still actively support an institution in such dire need for reform and so adamantly opposed to reform. I’ll always feel a kinship with the Roman Church in my heart, but fond memories are not enough to justify a church membership that I would find beyond the pale of my conscience.

Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

If you’re reading Soulfully Gay, you’ll come to a passage in Chapter 3 on advice to a questioning youth. Got this email recently and it blew me away…

Starting out, I’d prefer if you keep my name to yourself, but I had to write to you. A week or two ago, I was in a bookstore and spotted a single copy of your book on the shelf. I pulled it out, opened up to a page—and was somewhat shocked—because in that particular entry, you were writing about me. I used to write a blog about being gay / bi-sexual (whatever I am) and Christian at the same time, focusing on what I thought at the time was my path to becoming exgay. (I said something like turning away from homosexuality and toward god)

I’d probably still be on that path, but a little more than a year ago, I met someone. The blog entries became fewer and fewer as our relationship grew more and more. I love him; I’ve never loved anyone before. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I feel somewhat hypocritical—I’ve become what I told others I’d never become: just happy with who I am. Mostly. I’m not out to a lot of people. Mostly close friends. My church found out about my boy friend being gay (let me explain, they seem to think we’re just roommates and that he’s gay and I’m not) and one of the pastors made a huge deal out of it. My boy friend won’t go back to the church (I don’t blame him) and they told me I had to move out, or that I couldn’t do any of the leadership type things they had me doing. I haven’t been back to the church since then either, as much as I loved it there. It surprised me a lot, their reaction, being that it’s a hugely progressive group of over 2,000.

Anyway, I don’t really know why I’m writing to you. I told myself I would when I saw the entry. I don’t write the blog anymore, but have thought about starting a new one. Being that most of my friends before I met my boy friend are Christians, I can’t turn to them to talk about this stuff. Being in a relationship is hard enough, dating a guy for the first time in my life when everyone in my life tells me that’s wrong is, well, interesting, to say the least. It was nice to see what you wrote—I’d vaguely recalled reading it online, I think a while back. I’m sure I promptly dismissed it back then.

Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

A reader writes via e-mail:

I recently finished reading your book Soulfully Gay, and I just wanted to congratulate you on the publication of such a beautiful memoir and to thank you for writing it. While I cannot surpass Ken Wilber’s fulsome praise of your life and work, please know that this straight Benedictine monk was and is greatly inspired by your example. Also, please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.With every good wish and blessing,
Gregory Perron, O.S.B.

And thanks for your appreciation and support (and permission to reprint your email)! Blessings, Joe

Letter from a reader of Soufully Gay

Peter Savastano has given me permission to excerpt a bit from an email he sent me today:

You and I have a lot in common. I have studied astrology for over 25 years (Tropical, Sidereal, and Hindu). I have also studied the writings of Ken Wilber for at least 12 years, on-and-off, and I have been a student of Zen meditation since 1980 (I am 56).

Like you, I was raised Roman Catholic and I even tried my hand at monastic life back in the early 70s, first as a Trappist and then as a Little Brother of the Gospel (based on the vision of Charles de Foucauld (no, not Michel Foucault, though I adore MF). I also lived at the Catholic Worker in NYC for a brief respite between monastic orders (yes, struggling with coming out as a gay person isn’t a straight path, as I know you know, so I often had to leave the monastery in order to attempt to deal with my sexuality in a more conducive setting).

I too have tried to hang on to my Christian (Catholic) roots in whatever way I can, but often only by a thread. One of the ways I managed to do that over the years, minimal as it is, is by being involved with the Quakers, though the Quakers never seem to quite hit the g-spot of my heart in the way I long for their view to do so.

These days I am avidly reading the writings of Rudolf Steiner (Have you tried your hand at him?). His spiritual vision really speaks to me (perspectival as it as, but then again what view isn’t?). I have also been drawn from time to time to esoteric forms of Christianity. Essentially I have had to learn, as it seems you have too, to make my way in the world of Spirit trusting solely in my inner guide or the inner Christ, or Buddha, or whatever I seem to call it presently. I also have a great interest and attraction to shamanic healing and I have taken quite a few workshops on shamanic techniques.

Yes, I am a hodge-podge of spiritual searchings, longings, practices, the way of most gay men, I have come to believe and accept, since no tradition will seem to have us without some concession of our beings to their authority structures and rigid dogmas and doctrines.

I am currently making my way through KW’s “Integral Spirituality.” Gosh, I admit this is a very long winded way of introducing myself to you. Please forgive me for going on and on.

 

At any rate, my purpose for writing is to thank you for “Soulfully Gay” and for “Until” and “Integral Christian.” Your book was a true boon to me at a time of great suffering and inner darkness. I only recently finished it but didn’t want to let too long go by before I wrote to express my gratitude and appreciation to you…

God’s preferential option for the lesser developed

A few words about the Christian notion of the “preferential option for the poor,” a central concept in much Latin American liberation theology. This theological method assumes that God favors the poor and marginalized in history, and “God is on their side” in very real power struggles on earth. Theology is done from the margins; practice is emphasized over theory; “base communities” (small gatherings of believers) complement the institutional church as a place for discussing the Bible. According to Wikipedia, there are 80,000 base communities operating in Brazil alone.

As I see it, the “preferential option for the poor” simply doesn’t jive with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory. Evolutionary theology is thought produced by the cultural elites; thinking done from the margins–the poor, the oppressed, the illiterate–is reduced to lower levels of theological discourse. Liberation theology is acceptable to Integral theory on the basis that it’s a reflection of red and green altitude perspective whose claim on evolutionary theory must be included and transcended as merely a step in an ongoing process.

In Soulfully Gay, I tell a story that partly bridges the gap between liberation theology and mysticism. My central theological claim is that feminine and homophilic types have been marginalized by contemporary perspectives, and that a proper understanding of God will restore the balance created by the currently out-of-whack perspective that emphasizes agentic and homophobic modes of relating. If communal modes of theology are out of balance, homophilic modes are neglected even more so. (Communal and homophilic perspectives are even more neglected. However, not being a lesbian I feel rather unqualified to discuss this topic in depth.) So in my estimation, doing theology from the point of view of disenfranchised or underrepresented voices is critical to forming adequate conceptions of the relationship of God and Creation.

And yet as I see it today, my remarks in Soulfully Gay are only the beginning of a more comprehensive critique of Integral religious thought. As a Christian, I intuit the necessity to give greater value to perspectives of the least, the poorest, the most simple, feeble, and meek. This is the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. To not be faithful to the notion “Blessed are the poor…” is not a viable option.

And so my perspective on evolution is more or less the opposite of the approach taken by Integral religious thought (specifically the most rigid and elitist varieties). Their approach tends to favor the perspectives of the most highly sophisticated, evolved, and elite. In my blogs (particularly those posts related to Kronology), I have suggested a way beyond the deadlock. To bring the “preferential option for the poor” into Integral theology is to take an additional perspective not already included within mainstream Integral theory.

Consider Ken Wilber’s three fundamental perspectives on value–Absolute (the absolute value of an object for God), Intrinsic (the value of an object in itself), and Relative (the value of an object for others). I suggest that the “preferential option for the poor” demands at least a fourth perspective: Relatively Absolute (the relative value of an object for God). This perspective involves seeing the world through the prism of involution, not evolution (generally defined esp. as “regressive changes” and a “function which is its own inverse”). We must trace God’s footprints in history by positing the involutionary footprint that accompanies every evolutionary development.

Assume hypothetically that there are 10 stages of development–say: 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x, 7x, 8x, 9x, 10x. Then the Absolute perspective is 0. The equation for solving the Absolute perspective is, e.g., 1x = 0. x = 0/1 or x = 0. The Absolute perspective is solved by dividing the stage by the Absolute perspective. The result is always 0 (x = 0); hence it is accurate to say that in the absolute perspective all stages are equal in God’s eyes (0/1 = 0/2, etc.). The involutionary footprint acknowledges the validity that in God’s eyes all are equal, because it understands the leveling and equalizing power of 0 in the equation of life. Before 0, all relative value distinctions are obliterated.

However, there are other ways to solve for x=0. For it’s true that 1x = 0, but it’s also true that 1x + (-1x) = 0. The involutionary footprint is the negative value added to the evolutionary stage in order for the sum to result in x = 0. Thus, 2x + (-2x) = 0, 3x + (-3x) = 0, etc. The positive value represents a stage of development in an outward or other-centered direction (Eros); the negative value represents a stage in vertical development in an inner or immanent direction (Agape). Or to use the biased language of evolutionists, Agape is regression. By analogy, for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.

The implications of seeing an invisible trail of Agape as a footprint in evolution are enormous. It only scratches the surface to note that evolution is not merely a march forward to greater progress. It is accompanied at every stage of growth by increasing involution. The higher we appear to ascend, the deeper God appears to fall. The lower we appear to ascend, the less God seems to decline. From God’s relative point of view at 0, evolution and involution are equivalent, merely twin sides of the coin. Not only is one level of development not greater than any other, but the greater the apparent value the deeper the descent of God. By analogy, the negative numbers closest to 0 are prized, just as the poorest of the poor are the closest to God.

Thus, we can begin to understand the “preferential option for the poor” as something like a “preferential option for the underdeveloped, the lesser evolved”. From God’s relative point of view, the least feeble and weakest among the creatures are those who are less in “need” of God’s help, guidance, and comfort. They get more from God because they have less. God’s preference, God’s leveling and balancing act in History, is to give more and more of God’s self in self-sacrificial love (Agape) to the porrest, the meekest, and the least evolved. Relatively speaking, God’s love for the marginalized is greater than God’s love for the sophisticates and the realizers. It’s not fair, but this is part of the proclamation of Jesus’ teachings of the Reign of Heaven.

The involutionary insight of Christian theology can be appreciated from an Integral lense, but only by turning the scales of evolution upside down, and reimagining the universe from God’s point of view. God is not neutral in the conflict between the sophisticated elites and the marginalized poor. God is on the side of the lesser developed. It’s not an easy truth; it’s not fair (to our eyes most likely), but it’s the nature of the Reign of Heaven.

Soulfully Gay arrives

Got my copy of Soulfully Gay in the mail from Amazon.com. Also, my new copy of Shambhala’s catalog arrived and featured a listing for my book. In an email from Shambhala: a favorable review of the book in Library Journal. I’m firming up dates for a couple of author’s book signings with Shambhala’s assistance.

The book’s broken into the top 100 in Amazon’s Gay and Lesbian Nonfiction and Gay and Lesbian Memoir categories after just a few days. I have no idea how to measure successful reception of the book, but I’m pleased that the book is ranked at all.

Integral recovery

Robb Smith, the new CEO of I-I, shares his travel journal. Here’s a part that relates to integral recovery:

This week was planes, buses and rental cars. I flew into Salt Lake City and drove four hours to the heart of nowhere to learn first hand what is happening in the world’s first Integral addiction recovery program. The results are impressive, the inaugural class has been practicng an ILP for about a month and have been absolutely transformed by the experience. I know one of the participants very well, as this program was setup by me and John Dupuy for my brother, who is an alcoholic, and we were fortunate enough to have other participants from around the country join the program once we established it…. It should be really groundbreaking for the industry, which has suffered with an outdated, amber-meme 12 step program since the 1930s. Most moderns and postmoderns just can’t handle the downward self-regression required of that approach, which may account for why AA only has a 10% success rate.

Raltegravir

I met with a drug investigator for MK0518 (Raltegravir) today. No major side effects so far, just some noticeable acid reflux. It’s been a month since I began the new integrase inhibitor as well as a new protease inhibitor and two other anti-HIV drugs. Next week, I get bloodwork back.

I find myself having fears and expectations and more fears around getting the results back from the bloodwork. I suppose I’m most afraid that I’ll show no decline in viral load. Or very little decline. I am afraid, because there are few other options available to me at this point. It would feel like a heavy blow. I really want to live. And having the viral load come back high would just be the next worse thing to some sort of death sentence. Or so it seems. If I dwell on these possibilities, it’s very disturbing. I suppose it’s normal to feel this way, but normal sucks.

Sexual ethics

As I first set forth my views in Rising Up, there are universal sexual ethics. I suggest they may be founded by defining sex in this way: Sex is the joining of persons by Love through the mingling of bodies in all dimensions of being (gross, subtle, causal) and is clearly expressed primarily by the mingling of genitals. Sex is the joining of persons by Love. It is an embodiment of the Unity that already exists between all persons. But here’s the really tricky part. Sex is an expression of who we truly are in the center of our being. We are not one; we are connected. We are connected through Eros to the otherness of our partner(s); we are connected through Agape to the sameness of our partner(s). But we are already connected to all other beings, whether or not we have sex with one partner, many, or none at all! Sex is a profound act of affirmation of our nature as spiritual beings having a human experience. We are never closer to who we are truly then when we realize our unity with another, and by extension, with all. Sex is neither essential to this realization nor is it detrimental.

Our sex can be a profoundly distorted and disassociated experience (he projecting his communion onto her; she projecting her agency onto him, etc.). Or it can be an opening to our deepest center. The point isn’t so much what we do or who we do it with, but who we are when we give and receive love. Are we a fragmented self, satisfying basic instincts? Are we creatures of habit and virtue or vice? Are we rational beings engaged in productive activity? Are we sensitive souls? Are we integrated bodyminds? Or are we Love, arising in the moment, allowing our bodies to dance and shake and shiver in delight at the ecstasy at the heart of the universe? That is our deep charge, no matter what our sex life looks like on the surface.